Saturday, 28 March 2015

Food - Roti King, Euston

Roti King. Is the King. Hands Down. Bow down. End of story. Having been in Australia recently where the Asian food (and by Asian I mean South-East, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese etc etc), is frankly, as good as one can find, I feel as though returning home to London feels like what my parents would have felt about Chinese food in Australia in the early 1980s - lacklustre, grubby, and wholly catered to Western taste. Hence my trepidation at visiting Roti King. Would it, even by a fraction, deliver on the fresh, fluffiness needed on the roti canai and will it come with a smooth and spicy Malaysian curry-dhal, that those I've tried in Kuala Lumpur and Australia?

The place was rammed on a Thursday evening. Table for one. Wedged between overseas students on one hand who had ordered several dishes each, and a table of young twenty-somethings on the other, table piled high with beer and cider from the Sainsbury Local, furrowing their brows at the lack of vegetarian options on the menu. I took my cue from the overseas students and ordered:

Roti canai: two perfect portions of roti, tissue thin, crispy, and perfect for dipping into a simple lentil dhal. 

I teared away at the roti like a mad woman, inspecting the insides for evidence that the roti chef had indeed tossed and spun the dough around to create the multiple, puff-pastry like layers inside. Yes, he did! The dhal was spicy, not but too spicy, and the little bowl provided the perfect serving for me to joyfully dunk pieces of the roti.

Nasi lemak with crispy chicken:

There was nothing on this dish I didn't like. The chicken was seasoned in some sort of cumin/lemongrass spicy goodness, and deep-fried to juicy perfection. A generous slop of chilli sambal sauce on the side, perfect fluffy white rice, rounded off perfectly with the essential crispy anchovy-fishy things and crispy peanuts.  It's no wonder that Nasi Lemak is a national dish in Malaysia. 

Just writing this up now makes me fear that this place is too good and will inevitably be snapped up by, I don't know, Marsala Zone.

The next time I go to Roti King, I'm going to bring some suitably hardy friends who are up for an amazing meal and who won't be put off by the peeling furniture, the fact that the restaurant is in a basement and has no natural lighting, and that the bathroom is outside the premises, under the stairs.  Who cares? With a full belly and a sated grin on my face, I paused on my way out. I could hear noises from the kitchen. The sizzling and clanging of the woks, a signal of true Asian cooking, left me religiously reverential of The Roti King. Indeed.

Roti King is at 40 Doric Way, Euston. It's open for lunch and dinner. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bermondsey Street - wanderings

Oh what a luxury! Afternoon off work, nothing accomplished aside from meandering down the lengthy of Bermondsey Street. 

We began with lunch at Casse-CroĆ»te, a relatively recent addition to the restaurant scene.  It is unashamedly, a faithful reenactment of classic French bistro. Clearly this is something that Londoners don't seem to tire of, as the small dining area was buzzing by 1pm and we were pleased to see our reservation hastily scrawled in market on the paper tablecloth. The menu changes daily and is duly posted on Casse Croute's Twitter account so whilst counting down the hours this morning I had already settled on trying their pigs trotter starter - wrapped in tight rolls of deep-fried filo pastry, served with a tartare sauce to cut through the richness of the porky-gelatinous meat contained inside. It was an extremely well-constructed dish although strangely reminiscent of a Chinese spring roll.

For mains we had a shoulder of lamb served classically with vegetables and red win jus, served with a dish of creamy polenta (and by creamy I mean the seriously heart attack inducing type), as well as a fillet of sole, simply served served with a fresh tomato and herb sauce on rice. Meal for two including wine, £60.

Whilst the tarte citron at Casse Croute looked delicious, on my way to the venue I had come across Watch House Coffee at the southern end of Bermondsey Street. The former derelict watch house that stood in the corner of the cemetery has been transformed into a stylish coffee house. I noticed some beautiful details - the black and copper colour watchtower window which represents the brand's motif is incorporated in the interiors, such as the delicate copper vases, bowls and coffee sleeves.  High ceilings expose original brickwork and wooden beams. Most importantly, it also served a pretty decent coffee and a sticky, chewy, salted-caramel brownie.  We chatted to the barista, a chirpy, whistling young man who also introduced us to some cool new music from London artist, Shakka.

Lunch, coffee and cake done, we dragged our feet back towards the White Cube gallery. Who knew galleries could be so much fun in London when they're near empty on a Tuesday afternoon? Christian Marclay's exhibition is a study in sound and other than describing what I saw perhaps those preferring a more detailed dissertation of his work can redirect themselves to an article in the London Review of Books (here). 

Marclay explores the subject of sound in a range of media including pop-art paintings/prints, sound and video installations and performance.  On our visit we watched woman stood in the middle of the performance space, measuredly pouring water into various wine bottles, the sounds of which were being live recorded by sound engineers onto vinyl. Marclay has installed a vinyl record press and a screen printing machine and these are put in full use on weekends where guest musicians led by the London Sinfonietta are invited to perform and record works that are then immediately pressed, printed and sold in the gallery shop.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Food: Long White Cloud, Hoxton

The Long White Cloud sports a cosy shop-front on Hackney Road, in close vicinity to many other trendy cafes in the area. Happily though, it has some fine homemade touches, so when I visited on a cold Saturday morning it felt like being greeted by family.  Wooden tables line the length of the narrow interior, the white walls adorned with prints from a local artist (who herself appeared to be present with her family whilst I was there).  On my visit, I was served by a lovely lady who carried her newborn baby at her bosom. I saw batches of banana cake being freshly prepared, making me wish I had timed my visit a little later to coincide with the smell of freshly baked goods coming out of the oven.

I had a delicious slice of taleggio and mushroom pie, served with some freshly-prepared salads. Their counter stock pastries, Tim Tams and homemade gluten free treats.

Long White Cloud, 151 Hackney Road, E2 8JL

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Theatre: The Mikvah Project, The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick

​A Mikvah is a communal pool of water used in the Jewish faith for ritual immersion. It is around such a pool that Josh Azouz's play is staged at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick.  The play explores the relationship between Avi and Eitan,  two Jews who attend the same North London synagogue.  Avi is 35 and happily married, trying unsuccessfully for a baby with his wife. Eitan is only 17, and for some inexplicable reason, he feels completely drawn to Avi.  

Azouz cleverly focuses the audience's attention to the pool of water that encircles Avi and Eitan, and as the play flits between each actor's thoughts, we become swept up in the intensity of Eitan's relentless pursuit of Avi, in spite of the boundaries imposed by their religion and sexual identity.  Eitan tells his side of the story with an endearing cham. This in turn served to highlight Avi's inability to cope with Eitan's advances, and in one toe-curling moment, Avi resorts to using a football analogy in an attempt to persuade Eitan that his attraction to an older man is simply a momentarily wrinkle in his life. Eitan remains undeterred, and eventually the plot takes a surreal, dreamlike turn. Whilst I am left wondering whether Avi's feelings for Eitan are credible, in the end I realise that this doesn't matter - the performances given by both actors has given me enough to ponder all week.

The meatiness of the themes in The Mikvah Project was balanced nicely with some genuinely funny moments as Avi and Eitan described snippets of Jewish life in North London.  The Yard itself was the perfect venue to give effect to the eerie, swimming-pool lighting and the live music provided by the actors.  As each actor took turns narrating, the other would sing, livelooping from traditional Jewish chanting to Chris Isaacs, to Haim. So very clever indeed.  Oh, and two minor details - for a large chunk of the play both actors are completely naked, and if sitting in the front row there will be some water soakage involved!

The Mikvah Project will be at The Yard Theatre until 21 March 2015.